Salmon eggs as Bait?
It was probably 1961 and I was deep into learning about fishing here in Oregon. I was learning to tie flies. I was trying to catch a salmon or steelhead, entirely unsuccessfully, I should add.
All this with no mentoring. My father didn’t know about these things, although he had once enjoyed fishing himself, in a far distant time.
I remember my first experience with salmon eggs as bait. Since my first few salmon and steelhead were caught on spoons or spinners, I didn’t know what to do with the eggs so I just tossed them into the creek with the guts. But then I met a man from McMinnville who, in a few minutes of streamside coaching, opened my eyes to the wonders of bait fishing for steelhead.
I was captivated. My mind soared with possibilities. He saw things, knew secrets about steelhead that I wanted to learn.
So off I my dad and I went to the Otis gas station in search of salmon eggs. I don’t remember much about the gas station. It wasn’t the Quickie Mart we see today with Red Bull and Hostess doughnuts stacked to the ceiling. I do remember, though, a gallon glass jar sitting up on a shelf, three-quarters full of brown, salt-cured salmon eggs.
I don’t remember the price. Didn’t matter, I had to have some. The man got a white cardboard container, like we still use for restaurant take-home, grabbed a skein with tongs, put the prize in the box, weighed it, and my father paid.
Creek-side, I clinch-knotted a bait hook to my Scotch Line – anyone else remember pale pink Scotch Line – and made a cast.
Muddy water and all, I hooked a salmon. Lost it too, but I hooked a fish.
That was the start of my egg fishing days. I learned about egg-loop knots, added yarn to the mix, read about secret cures and all. I used, borax, salt, sugar, and Strawberry Jello. Then I acquired some dye in the 60s from a friend who worked in a Weyerhaeuser Mill in Sweet Home. Rhodamine-B. This dye worked magic on my eggs, turning them a florescent hot pink that surely, no self respecting salmon or steelhead could resist.
Years of egg fishing followed. I learned to appreciate the subtleties of the small and large egg clusters; drift fishing and plunking; bobbers for kings in tidewater; and the egg-shrimp combo.
At some point, I drifted away from using eggs and bait altogether, finding that I was just as happy fishing spoons, spinners, jigs, drift lures, pink rubber worms, flatfish, and even flies.
Now I see that there are toxic chemicals in some of the egg-cures that people rave about these days. Never would have guessed. Never in a million years.
What to do? Simple, stop using these chemicals. Period. I’m fine with some sort of an allowance of time for for folks to transition. Such matters are beyond the realm I choose to micromanage. There will be battles, threats of lawsuits, actual lawsuits, and finger pointing. It is probably inevitable. People are people, god love us all.
But think about this, please. Twenty years from now, I believe that we won’t be fishing most of our wild salmon rivers with bait. Twenty years from now, salmon and steelhead will be revered and receive more protection than they do today. Maybe I’m right – maybe not. I just believe that we will be limiting ourselves to artificial lures and not allowing bait.
Seems like doing away with toxins in bait now is a good way to start the transition. It is easier on me because I don’t have the twenty quarts of cured eggs in a freezer. I don’t depend on producing egg-cures to support my family.
I hope that folks who are in the middle of all this matter act thoughtfully, respect fish and people, and build bridges to the future. All of us, as anglers and conservationists, have an opportunity to step into the future.
Those who know me understand that I don’t especially care for one-size-fits-all solutions. I don’t claim to have all the answers. I love wild Pacific salmon. I respect everyone who loves to fish for salmon, regardless of how they fish.
We must deal with this issue. We would feel great indignation if a farmer introduced a fish-killing chemical into our rivers. There are laws that limit how close to streams foresters can apply fish-killing chemicals. Rightfully so. Our turn to face the complexities of this issue.
From Alaska to California, where native pacific salmon live, we must figure out a solution to this issue. Some of our rivers support ESA listed salmon and steelhead. Some of our rivers have relatively healthy runs. Some runs are mostly wild, and some runs are mostly hatchery fish. To me, these are just details. We shouldn’t be willfully introducing poison to our rivers.
I leave it to the many creative minds in the angling community to find a solution, set time tables, educate anglers, and move into the future. I think we all want wild salmon and steelhead in our rivers – forever. Let’s get on with finding the solutions.